Chinese Tech Firm Trials Facial Recognition in Late-Night Gamer Crackdown

Chinese tech giant Tencent has begun using facial recognition to stop children from staying online into the middle of the night in defiance of the country's gaming curfew.

The Shenzhen-based firm, which publishes titles including Fortnite and League of Legends in China, is calling the feature "Midnight Patrol." The mechanism will automatically screen accounts to ensure that those under the age of 18 aren't secretly playing on phones belonging to their parents or other adults.

The software will make use of facial identification data from the country's public security system, Shanghai's Sixth Tone reported. The new policy is another step in compliance with recent national regulations that forbid children from gaming between the hours of 10 p.m. and 8 a.m.

In a notice released on Tuesday, Tencent said the feature would be trialed on 60 of its mobile games, including the hugely popular titles Honor of Kings and Game for Peace, which are modeled on League of Legends and PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, respectively.

"We will begin conducting facial screening for adult accounts registered under real identities that have played for a certain amount of time at night," the statement said. "Those who refuse or fail facial verification will be considered a minor and kicked offline as part of Tencent's addiction-prevent gaming health system."

In 2019, China's General Administration of Press and Publication introduced new regulations that mandated a gaming curfew for children.

The laws are aimed at curbing the amount of time schoolchildren spend on online games, which have been blamed for everything from anti-social behaviour and nearsightedness to severe addiction.

There have also been cases of children spending shocking amounts of money on in-app purchases, using the bank cards linked to their parents' phones.

Among the new guidelines were monthly limits on microtransactions for children's accounts, as well as real identity account registration. Games that included sexual or violent content were also restricted.

Tencent said that, as of June 2021, a daily average of 5.8 million accounts were signing in using facial verification, while 28,000 accounts utilized facial recognition for online payments.

To prevent children from changing the parental settings on their parents' phones, the alteration of preferences would also require facial screening, its statement noted.

"The patrol is about to begin. Children, put away your phones and go to sleep," the notice read.

Tencent is a multimedia corporation most famous for its ubiquitous instant-messaging app WeChat and the search engine Sogou. Its online gaming titles are released through Tencent Games.

China Tech Giant Begins Facial Verification
The logo of Shenzhen-based technology and multimedia corporation Tencent, owner of Tencent Games. Chesnot/Getty Images